A VETERAN of the Spanish Civil War, a fighter for the French Resistance and a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, Virgilio Pena lived a full life which came to an end on Thursday after 102 years.
Born to a farmer and his wife in a small village near Espejo, Cordoba, in 1914, Pena became active in farming unions, joining various Marxist and revolutionary groups as a teenager.
As war broke out across Spain in 1936 and Franco’s Nationalists began their murderous advance, Pena, aged just 22, hung a Republican flag from his balcony and signed up as a militiaman, participating in dozens of battles and witnessing the horrors of war, before retreating with half a million other men to France as Franco seized power.
There Pena volunteered his services to help fight the Nazis, believing that the fall of the Third Reich would also destroy Franco’s dictatorship and liberate Spain. Claiming to have been given away by a fellow Spaniard, Pena was captured by the Vichy regime and brutally tortured before being handed over to the Nazis.
Transferred to the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, he spent years watching thousands sent to the crematorium, locked in a barracks of more than 40,000 men and known among them as El Campesino (the peasant).
Liberated by American soldiers in 1945, Pen weighed just 42 kilos and had nowhere to go, making his way back to France where he worked as a carpenter. He was awarded the Legion d’honneur for his services teaching young people about perils of fascism, and has a street named after him in his home town.